IN years gone by, Greg Stewart has hit the beach over the summer. This time, he knew he had to hit the ground running.

The striker clinched a deal with Rangers in the middle of June and reported for pre-season duty just days later as he got down to business with Steven Gerrard’s side. He has learned from the errors of the past and made an impressive start to life in Light Blue. On Sunday, he netted his first goal for his boyhood heroes in the friendly win over Oxford.

Stewart admitted two years ago that a hectic close season – one which saw him go on three holidays – hindered him in the first months of his spell with Aberdeen. After playing catch-up fitness wise, he knew he couldn’t make the same mistakes again, and certainly not this year.

At 29, he is in the prime of his career and he is determined to prove it as he looks to make an immediate impact with Gerrard’s side this term.

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Stewart said: “You learn from your failures and what to do. I won’t do that again. I am not getting any younger either so I have to come back in as best shape as possible and the fitness team here have helped with that. You eat the right things and do the right things to make your ready for the games. it has been good and I am just looking forward to the games coming thick and fast.

“We all got off-season plans from the fitness plans so I made sure I kept on top of that so that I could prepare myself as much as possible coming into the season. You can’t really come back in bad shape anymore and it is not like back in the day where you could be a few stone overweight.

“I have learned my lesson from that previously so I tried to prepare myself as much as possible. It is still early days yet and the fitness and sharpness will come with more games. It has been good.”

The deal for Stewart isn’t the most high-profile one that Gerrard has completed this summer as the former Aberdeen and Kilmarnock star moved to Ibrox from Birmingham.

But he could have a key role to play in the coming months as Rangers set their sights on domestic silverware and progress in the Europa League.

Stewart has waited a long time to pull on the blue jersey and marked the occasion with a goal as Rangers beat Oxford 5-0 at the weekend.

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He said: “Obviously it was my main aim when I knew I was starting and you want to get off the mark as soon as possible when you come to a new team. I was delighted that I managed to do that.

“Rangers is probably more and I didn’t realise how good the club was looking at the moment with the staff and the players that are here already. If we just keep doing what we are doing, we could achieve something special this year.

“We have had the two bounce games behind closed doors but it doesn’t feel the same as when you walk out at Ibrox in front of the fans. It was good to get that game under our belts on Sunday and get minutes in the tank.

“We are looking forward to the game against St Joseph’s and it is obviously the first competitive game of the season. The boys have worked hard in the last few weeks getting our fitness up and we are raring to go.”

With closed doors fixtures against Mansfield and TNS, and that win over Oxford, now under their belts, Rangers are preparing for their first competitive outing this evening.

The match with St Joseph’s in Gibraltar is the first of eight matches Rangers will have to play if they are to repeat their achievements of last term and reach the group stages.

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Stewart said: “When you come to Rangers, there are obviously a lot of good players here and there is a big squad. So when you get that opportunity, you have to try and take it.

“It is a great bunch of boys here and we all want to work for each other. It is only a few weeks in so far and I know myself it is early days and there is a lot of hard work to be done.

“I watched the games last year and you always want to go further in any competition. When you come to Rangers, there is a demand on you to win every football match. I am not wanting to look too far ahead. If we can go one better than we did last year, great. We will see what happens. There is a demand on you to win here so we will take it game by game.”

The matches with Villarreal, Spartak Moscow and Rapid Vienna saw Rangers return to the group stages of European competition after a turbulent few years on and off the park.

Stewart experienced the nights under the Ibrox floodlights from the stands as a fan. Now he wants to thrive on the continental stage.

He said: “When I was younger I went to a few big European nights at Ibrox and the atmosphere was unbelievable. They are the games you look forward to. If I can be a part of those nights, that is something that I have dreamed of. It is still early days so we will take it game by game and round by round and give every team the respect that they are due.

“I have been to a few Champions League games and I was down at Manchester. They lived with you for the rest of your life. I was there with my family and friends. I have been to a few big nights and I want to be part of that myself. That is something I have always wanted to do.

“That is the opportunity that I have now at this club. Every chance I get I want to grasp it.”